The Livarot cheese: Introduction
The Livarot cheese is thought to be one of the oldest cheeses to come from Normandy. Guillaume de Lorris cites the cheese in the book ‘le Roman de la Rose,’ an dit is referred to as a ’angelot' in Thomas Corneille’s ‘Dictionnaire’ published in 1708. The cheese is named after the town of Livarot in the department of Calvados which held the principal market of the area.
The croiser on the coat of arms of the cheese represents the Benedictine abbey. The two fleur de lys symbolise the royal barony of Liverot. The central coat of arms is for the arms of Gouyon-Matignon. To the right, the shield represents the arms of Crespin of Bec Crespin and to the left, the arms of Neufbourg, barons of Annebec and Livarot.
The Livarot cheese is cylindrical with a diameter of 11 to 12cm, a thickness of 4 to 5cm and a weight of between 350 and 500 grams. The bare cheese is bound with five strips of ‘sedge,’ from the aquatic plant of the Typha Latifolia species (bulrush), it is therefore called colonel because these stripes resemble those of a colonel’s uniform.
The Livarot cheese is matured for 3 months in a humid cheese cellar when it is washed periodically with salted water.
Exterior appearance of the Livarot cheese: fine, glossy rind
Odour of the Livarot cheese: strong
Texture of the Livarot cheese: soft but nor runny
Taste of the Livarot cheese: the flavour can go from pronounced to very ripe, almost like it’s gone off.
History of the Livarot cheese
The dwellings of the inhabitants were spread out, the fact that they had very little communication, and the nature of the land all explain why the Livarot cheese was made by dairy farms. The farmers used the milk of the farm: the fat made butter and the milk was creamed and turned into the Livarot cheese. It was therefore a low fat cheese, rich in protein, with a unique taste, which could be conserved for 4 to 6 months. For this reason, butter and the Livarot cheese were closely linked and meant that the nothing of the milk of the cows was wasted. The Livarot cheese was essentially a product of summer, the time when the milk was in abundance.
Pommeureux de la Bretesche was the first to call this cheese ‘Livarot’ in 1693. In the 17th Century, the skimmed matter was the essential element in the composition of the cheese, and the abbot Demolles cited the cheese as the most renowned cheese of the period.
In 1707, Thomas Corneille (brother of the famous Pierre Corneille) mentions the Livarot in the ‘Dictionnaire Universal Géographique et Historique.’ It is also at this time (the end of the 17th Century to the beginning of the 18th Century) that the meat-based diet developed in the towns. The areas of the Pays d’Auge, close to the marshland of the Dives and the Touques, were well situated for this new meat trade. The quality of the meat of the cattle, the nature of the land for grazing and the climate and the proximity to the capital meant that there was a regular supply.
The trading of meat, in this region which was traditionally known for its butter and cheeses, encouraged the development of the cheese market. It is from this period that from north to south and east to west, the “couchage en herbe” developed in the Pays d’Auge and it began a large-scale fabrication of butter and cheese. After having had a great amount of notoriety, the Livarot seemed to go out of fashion from 1805, when several statements were written, for example Francis Marre wrote in 1911 that the way in which the odour was so pronounced meant that the cheese could be prejudiced. However, it resisted, despite the negative crtitiques, for many years. In 1877, Livarot sold twice as much as Camembert. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the production methods were developed. The farms were developed with specialist dairy facilities. The breeders in the dairy industry, on finding an outlet for their milk, abandoned cheese-making. The number of farms producing the cheese dropped, which lead to the disappearance of the affineurs. With the improvement of railways and roads, the milk could be collected more easily. The transportation of the milk by cart developed with the introduction of relays for the horses. Then, from 1930, these relays were replaced by lorries with water cans, and later by tankers. The artisan businesses, created the century before, prospered and grew. At the same time, the sites where Camembert was produced were being developed. In effect, this cheese needed less milk and matured more quickly: therefore the circulation of capital is quicker. Furthermore, the use of the individual wooden boxes facilitated the cheeses for transportation.